Return from AAR in Chicago

I just got back from AAR in Chicago. For those of you who don’t know what AAR is, it is the American Academy of Religion and meets annually with the Society for Biblical Literature.  This large conference is held every year, and thousands attend: academics, professors, students, as well as others who are interested in religion and related fields.

In addition to it being a great time to see friends and get great deals on books (occupational addiction), it is a great time to hear new thoughts, be reminded of old ones, and be challenged to deeper faith and better teaching. I have much on which I could reflect. It is easy to pick things apart and mention all that is negative. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to focus on what is good and positive, remembering that is as much a part of our world as the negative. I’ll keep it narrowed down to what is interesting or helpful.

1) Over the years, including this one, I have met or had time with some great scholars. The truly great ones tend to be gracious, kind and have nothing to prove. It is refreshing and encouraging.

2) That we still need inclusive language in academics and perhaps more importantly the church. There is a lot of buzz these days about the feminization of Christ and the church and a strong push back is taking place. The hard part when really pressed is that this so-called feminization was often a call for inclusiveness, not an exclusive corrective. It is amazing that some see inclusive language as a threat to their entire sex and prefer instead to blatantly exclude the opposite sex. This is the case in the continued conversation solidified at the annual Desiring God Conference last Spring by the comments of John Piper saying that it was God who gave Christianity a “masculine feel”.   Ironically, the argument is made that the male sex is more logical and that is one of the very reasons for the need for the masculinity of God. Do they not see how illogical this very argument is? I digress.

3) There needs to be much greater dialogue between biblical scholars, theologians and practitioners and realize many of us are more than one of these three. There was much conversation of what difference the workshops and paper presentations made in the conference center to the real world of the lives of people of faith. Some seemed almost apologetic that they were in the academic fields. Others posture with a superiority that belies more of their own insecurity than their status. And then many are comfortable in their own skin and recognize the church and academy need one another.

4) I went to one session that discussed identity and image as used in popular culture from biblical texts. My favorite quote from the weekend: “In biblical studies we are actually in the enviable position of actually addressing the text on which these images are constructed.” Here was a woman, who knows she has has something to offer by being a biblical scholar. It was beautiful to see her and to see her be received so well.

5) I was reminded in another paper that children are too often overlooked or ignored in biblical studies and consequently in places of faith. The presenter spoke with such conviction and passion alongside those doing intricate hermeneutical and exegetical work. It was brilliant and inspiring for those of us who have made large portions of our lives about the faith development of young people.

6) That you can work for shared values but knowledge demands collaboration. The notion of iron sharpening iron and working together is alive and well in some pockets and I dream of it being so in all corners of the academy and church. Enough of this childish territorialism.

7) That there is a conversation underway by several scholars at historically elite universities to revamp curriculum and consequently teaching to move away from a curriculum of domination. The goal is to address where we have been honestly and to reframe for what could be.

8) I learned that one of the most refreshing and engaging things you can do in a city for a conference is to ditch a session and find the coolest thing around. I did so and thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. Indeed there were moments when it felt like standing on holy ground.

I very much enjoyed this year’s meeting in Chicago, and am already looking forward to next year’s meeting in Baltimore.

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About Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober (PhD, Fuller Seminary) is a youth ministry veteran with ministry and teaching experience. She focuses on practical theology, urban ministry, theology & disability, and marginalized communities. She is a volunteer youth worker in her church and community, lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and serves on the Young Life Capernaum national board. In her free time she can be found playing with her three young children, husband, and oversized dog.